The Night of the Iguana by Tennessee Williams at the American Repertory Theater

Amanda Plummer (Hannah) looking down on James Earl Jones (Nonno) in his wheelchair on stage

In 1961 Tennessee Williams was near the end of his rope emotionally and vocationally. This tropical stage drama and movie story–The Night Of The Iguana–was written out of that time and condition. A line in the program notes says that it is William’s most autobiographical play. It is a religious passion play. A Southern Protestant, Williams was working out Christian constraints of morality and behavior from a hilltop rainforest setting.

A shamed Episcopal priest, Larry Shannon, leaves his American parish and finds work as a  guide for a cut-rate excursion company in Mexico. He reroutes his tour group of female Baptist college teachers to an out-of-the-way hotel in the jungle.

Emotions and passions spill all over the hotel veranda. The fragile, cracking Rev. Shannon is the center of the story. Sex and booze, the ministrations of nature, even the glory of military victory, are sampled as remedies for the discomfort of existence.  As the characters try to move forward, each one is tethered to the past. An iguana, caught and roped by the two Mexican cliff divers/service-boys, and held for further torture and slaughter, scratches for release.

Tennessee Williams 1911-1983

The only characters that are free (in addition to those gigalo nature-boy servants) are Hanna Jelkes (played by Amanda Plummer), an itinerant Nantucket painter, and her ancient poet grandfather (played by James Earl Jones). The traveling pair,  dressed in white, have no money, and few belongings, but they have their art, their commitment to each other,  a kind regard for those around them, and wonder at the world (symbolized by the sea).

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